Sacrament of the Sick

Sacrament of the SickToday's gospel of Jesus healing the centurion's servant reminds us about the treasure we have in the Church's Sacrament of the Sick.

Finally rescued from being viewed as an anointing for heaven, it is now seen as a prayer and anointing for healing, to be called for sooner rather than later in our battle against sickness and disease. 

This new insight bears repeating and constant example by inviting, when appropriate, family members and loved ones to be present at the Sacrament of the Sick. The spiritual peace and strength bestowed by the sacrament is a beautiful ally for physical healing if recovery is hoped for. In hospice care, a peaceful and consoling presence of God can rest on the anointed.


Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Blessed Feast Day Everyone!

With great respect for Pierro della Francesca I've repaired his beautiful fresco of the Proving of the Holy Cross, the portion of his fresco series in Arezzo that most closely mirrors our Holy Cross Window, now in the choir loft.

This weekend would be a great time to read a little about the origin of the feastday and the history of St. Helena's pilgrimages to the Holy Land. 


Photoshopped version of the Death of Adam
An Imaginary "Repaired" Version of the Death of Adam

Certain of the panels have more deterioration than others. In many of them the blue sky has flaked and disappeared, and in the Death of Adam, above, many of the greens have faded and disappeared. Looking at della Francesca's other paintings, it isn't too hard to either copy or modify the trees from his intact paintings to fill in the background of the trees in "Death of Adam." The Tree of Life is taken from a the panel of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. Some have argued that half of the tree was dead and half living. I'm not sure, but here's what it might look like if it were intact. Trees figure prominently in some of his other panels in this series and in his Baptism of Jesus by John, for instance. 

As we pray what kind of art to put in our reredos, it is well to consider the history of the iconography of the "Invention of the True Cross" in art.


Saint Onesiphorus

Modified from Wikipedia
Manuscript Showing Sosthenes, Apollo, Cephas, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Cæsar and Onesiphorus.

Since Onesiphorus was named by St. Paul in Scripture, you'd think he'd be familiar to more people. When we realize that Onesiphorus was thanked by Paul, not only for embracing the faith, but for being loyal and helpful to Paul imprisoned in Rome, we have an example of true friendship for all ages.

He was apparently a convert to the faith in Ephesus and by one tradition was one of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus two-by-two. Not only was he helpful to Paul at Ephesus, but traveled to Rome and tracked him down in prison in order to visit. 

Onesiporus was martyred for the Christian faith.

May his witness to Christ and his fidelity to Paul even when it was unpopular be an inspiration for us all today.

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

6a0120a4f88a1c970b01bb09bb8ec8970d-500wiSt. Aidan was the second missionary called up to evangelize the lands of Northumbria. The first wasn't martyred or imprisoned, his methods were not working. St. Aidan, though he was pious and austere personally, was pastorally inviting.

St. Aidan's efforts met with unqualified success. His mission took birth from the Isle of Iona in a community founded by one of our Window Saints, St. Columkille (Columba). In Northumbria, Aidan eventually founded a community at Lindisfarne

Both communities of monks produced beautiful illustrated manuscripts - the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels respectively.

There is usually more than one way to accomplish anything, St. Aidan is proof of that. Nor should we take someone else's failure as a prediction of our own efforts. Aidan kept the focus on his love for Jesus and the gospel. His love and compassion for those to whom he ministered flowed from that.





St. Fiacre

By Vassil (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Saint Fiacre would  have preferred to live a life of solitude as a monk. He even left Ireland for France to find it, but his reputation for efficacious healing prayer and his growing of medicinal herbs preceeded him and people flocked to him wherever he went.

We've become so conditioned to have negative associations with the word "drugs" - their abuse, their expense, their side effects, that we may forget the abundance of healing chemicals and substances found in nature alone. Most of today's drugs are either found in nature or synthesized to resemble and improve upon naturally healing compounds.

Let us thank God for the healing gifts of nature and for St. Fiacre's insight that the best combination is prayer and healing compounds.

Watch With Jesus For One Hour Every Thursday Night 6:00 - 7:00 PM

Gethsemane at Night

One of the traditions surrounding Thursday evening Holy Hours was that they were a watch with Jesus on Holy Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane. They come as a direct invitation from Jesus to wait with Him in the Garden.

We are expanding our once monthly Thursday evening devotions to every Thursday 6:00 - 7:00 PM.

There are no group prayers, official hymns or ceremony. Come for all or any part of the hour and watch with Him.


St. Augustine

Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saint Augustine's restless search for truth and love ended when he found Christ. 

Putting aside those modern interpreters who view Augustine as overly prudish or harsh, his writings are filled with love of Christ and an emphasis on the anticipated joys of heavenly beauty.

His passion for Christ and His Church burned even on his deathbed as the gates of Hippo were besieged by barbarians.

Perhaps his most famous quote is also his best:

Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God.

St. Louis IX of France, Holy Cross Window Saint

St. King Louis IX of France was to all accounts a man of exemplary piety and sincere faith. He led two Crusades to regain control of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem and died of illness during the second. He promoted the ecclesial reforms of the Dominicans and Franciscans. Whether or not he actually became a Franciscan tertiary is not certain, but it was for his support of the Franciscan Order that our window was originally installed in the Church of St. Francis in Philadelphia.

He is shown garbed in a robe with the royal symbol, fleur-de-lis and his earthly crown, holding not a scepter of power or an orb, but the Cross of Christ.



Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr


statue of St. Bartholomew
Statue of St. Bartholomew in St. John Lateran

With the same irony that names St. Bartholomew patron saint of tanners, the Church selects a reading from St. John's gospel, the only gospel which does not use the name Bartholomew to celebrate his feast day.  Philip, paired with Bartholomew in the three synoptic gospels, is paired with Nathaniel in John's gospel. Hence one of the reasons some scholars posit Nathaniel and Bartholomew as the same person.


One of the traditions concerning Bartholomew is that he was martyred by being skinned or flayed alive. This was the favorite depiction in art since the Renaissance and he is often shown holding the knife by which he was flayed in one hand and his own skin in the other. You may recall that historians speculate that the face on the flayed skin St. Bartholomew holds in Michelangelo's Last Judgment is actually a self-portrait by the artist.

Today we can celebrate Bartholomew's intellectual curiosity to explore the truth, his gift of faith to apprehend it when he met Jesus, and his zeal and enthusiasm to have this faith change not only his life but the life of the world. How sorely we need a thirst for truth in today's society where truth has been cynically discarded for "my story." So many have either despaired that there really is any truth, or have given up even looking for it.  Rational discourse has been replaced by dramatic, interpretive monologue.

Let us ask for the energy and courage St. Bartholomew had to spread the message that Christ is the "Way, the Truth and the Life."


Justice or Mercy

PicketToday's gospel reminds us that we do not have a lock on God's loving concern or a veto over God's lavish giving.

A covenant is not simply a contract. For one thing, it is unbreakable - not rendered void by the action of one party. This is an important teaching not only for couples about to marry in the Church, but something for us to consider whenever we're led into anger or resentment because of God's forgiveness or mercy towards others.

The vineyard owner's question to the laborers "Are you envious because I am generous?" is a good one for us too.


Eclipse of Faith?

For a moment today, the sun will be darkened by planetary motions which scientists can predict even if not fully understand.

Shutterstock_475042897Faith in things unseen is a fundamental principle of the Christian view of the world. Religious faith is more complicated than having faith that the sun is still there even when we can’t see it. It’s a belief in things that cannot be seen or measured, but are nevertheless real – a spiritual world exists too. We can know enough about this realm using our human reason alone to agree on a public morality which should allow us to live in mutual respect and peace.

Through Divine Revelation, we believe that higher truth has been revealed through the Scripture and Sacred Tradition of the Church, enabling us to profess our faith in the Nicene Creed we pray every week at Mass.

Saints and spiritual writers encourage us to keep the faith during times of personal faith eclipse – times in our lives when God may seem absent and our spirits dark. When such feelings persist, St. John of the Cross called them the “Dark Night of the Soul.” We learn much about God and move into closer union with God, not by fleeing the dark night, but by learning to find God in the dark. Faith that God is near, even when we can’t see.

St. Pius X and Holy Communion

HolyCommunionPope St. Pius X promoted both frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion for adults and ensured that the practice of the Church was to welcome children to First Communion and First Penance when they had reached the age of reason, age seven.

They need not have a perfect understanding of Holy Eucharist, but merely an understanding that the Eucharistic Bread is different from ordinary bread and to receive it with a degree of piety and reverence appropriate for their age. 

The Pope called the reception of Holy Communion the "surest, easiest, shortest way" to heaven.


Saint Helena, Empress

Saint Helena's statue in the Vatican
St. Helena in St. Peter's

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Helena, an important saint in the church and in the iconography of our own parish.

St. Helena, whose son battled his way to imperial power ultimately under the banner of the Christian cross, was brought to the imperial court by her son and deputed to search for sites important to Christians in the Holy Land. Well into her senior years, she directed the demolition of pagan shrines often built over these sites and undertook excavations in Jerusalem which ultimately uncovered the True Cross, the tomb of Jesus and other precious relics.

Her pilgrimage and building opened the way for countless other pilgrims through the centuries to make the difficult journey to the holy sites in and around Jerusalem.

Travel pilgrimages survive today as a form of devotion, though usually not as perilous as those of yesteryear. The journey theme itself, however, is still an important metaphor for the life of Christian discipleship: we begin our challenging journey in this life in the footsteps of Jesus and follow His Way to the heavenly Kingdom. 

St. Helena's energy and enthusiasm for new projects in her senior years, her resilience of spirit following her divorce by her husband and her hope to search for the unseen can be inspirations for us today. We too, should revere Jesus' memory and the places he trod during His earthly life.

Let us ask her protection on life's journey as we follow Jesus on The Way.



Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

The Balance ScalesWhat interesting Scripture readings for mass this morning. The first reading recounts Joshua's passage through the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant and the entire people of Israel, mirroring Moses' passage through the Red Sea - both leading the people to the Promised Land.

The gospel is from Matthew, whose gospel is carefully constructed around Mosaic themes, depicting Jesus as the "New Moses," who fulfills the Old Covenant and forms a new Covenant with his people. Like Moses and Joshua, but surpassing them both, Jesus leads them into the Kingdom of God.

The parable of the unforgiving servant reminds us that old rules no longer apply in the New Kingdom. The "lex talionis" or eye-for-an-eye is an overly rigorous expression of justice. Instead, we should show the same freely given forgiveness Jesus issues to us to our brothers and sisters in return.

Today, some grudge, resentment or unpaid debt will surely come to mind before Communion. Let us ask Jesus to help us release it, for in doing so we not only release our debtor, but our own spirit too. If we can't find the forgiveness in our own heart yet, we can surely find it in the Heart of Jesus.




The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

In 1950 Pius XII infallibly defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, a belief already held by Catholics and many other Christians since the early days of the church. The dogma deliberately leaves open the question of whether Mary suffered death before her assumption prevented bodily deterioration. 

In 2005 on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary,  the statue of Our Lady of Grace which stands atop our Carriage House was dedicated in Mary's honor and with prayers that she intercede for our parish and its people.

Dedication of Our Lady of Grace Statue at Holy Cross, Solemnity of the Assumption
Our Lady Of Grace at Holy Cross Church Rumson

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Charity

Saints in Heavenly CloudsWhile canon lawyers are still discussing the technical requirements of the Catholic church for being declared a martyr, we should not miss Maximilian Kolbe's heroic life of virtue long before he volunteered to take the place of a condemned man in a Nazi concentration camp. His self-sacrifice and service to others continued even in the bleak starvation bunker with his fellow prisoners.

Pope Francis' recent motu proprio, "Greater Love Than This" defined a new category of sainthood -an offering of life. Traditionally, the death of a martyr for the faith had to occur as a direct and immediate hatred for the Catholic faith on the part of the oppressor toward the victim. 

 “They are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.”

Pope Francis, Majorem hac dilectionem.



Stormy Seas and Seawalking

bicycle riding, learning, parents, training wheels

I laughed when St. Peter's sinking

into the stormy waves

reminded me of learning

To ride a bike.

For my first brief solo flights

without training wheels, 

I was fine until I realized

Dad wasn’t holding on anymore.

And then...crash...right into the hedges!



This gospel is wonderful encouragement

as we strive to follow Jesus.

First, encouragement not to lose faith

For it is then we begin to sink.

       There’s a point at which

       All the books about prayer

       Can’t teach us to pray

       If we don’t begin to pray

       And then stop worrying

       If we’re doing it right.

Second, reassurance

That if we’re heading

In the right direction...toward Jesus

And following his commands

He won’t let us sink.


St. Augustine preached

A wonderful homily

On this gospel

On which we can reflect

After we realize that

Augustine asks us

To make, “Lord, I’m sinking.”

Is not always easy to admit.

But we need not keep

Up a bravado with God - 

A false front of security

And calm, even if done

For the sake of others.

God doesn’t require it.

You are not walking on the lake like Peter
but on another sea, for this world is a sea;
Trials its waves, temptations its storms,
and men devouring each other as fishes do.
Don't be afraid, step out stoutly lest you sink.
When the gale blows and the waves rise,
and your weakness makes you fear you will be lost,
cry out, 'Lord, I am sinking,'
and he who bade you walk will not let you perish.

St. Augustine via At The Edge of the Enclosure a wonderful resource for prayerful reflection on Scripture each Sunday.

Could St. Clare Watch Television With You?

TvPope Pius XII named St Clare, virgin and abbess,  patron saint of television due to her reported ability to "watch" mass on the wall of her room when she was unable to attend in the chapel due to illness. She had one of the earliest big screen televisions?

Her radical commitment to poverty, chaste living and prayer, especially in the Eucharist are counter-cultural images to our age of acquisition, sexual promiscuity and self-deification. 

Could we invite her to watch the television images we project on our walls?


Enough? Enough!

Loaves and Fishes

Many times we find ourselves asking the question, "Enough?"

If we fall under the spell of modern advertisers our answer is certainly "no." We become convinced no one can never have enough money or popularity or youth or time. When we find ourselves in this state of worry, the tone my parents used to signal an end to family bickering is appropriate - "Enough."

In prayer, we might approach God with an earnest plea for help or courage or assistance in carrying out a project, dealing with a difficulty or using a blessing. "Enough?"

Whatever the circumstance, God's grace is sufficient. There is enough mercy, enough love. God's gentle, reassuring answer through Christ,  "Enough!"